A full-flavored Italian condiment you'll want to put on everything!
One day, I was flipping through America's Test Kitchen Foolproof Preserving.
The beginning of the book offers a Preserving Lexicon defining the differences of preserves from jams to jellies to marmalades. One of the preserves defined was mostarda. I was so excited to discover this Italian condiment that I had never heard of, only to find that there was no recipe for it in the book. (Other than that, the book is fantastic, and I highly recommend it.)
Mostarda doesn't need to be canned. It can be served immediately or stored in the fridge for weeks.
For years, I've been flipping through my canning books. I’ve done more flipping than canning, but I dream of a basement filled with jams and jellies and pickled everything. I dream of standing in front of shelves and shelves of jars I canned and relish (ahem) in the fruits of my labor, feeling a simpatico with my dead relatives.
I have a cousin, Billy, (he's alive), but I think he has a real simpatico with our dead relatives. He's a throw-back and a preserver of tradition.
Billy bakes artisan loaves of bread in an outdoor oven he built himself. He makes his own sausages and hangs them to cure in a communal, temperature-controlled garage (a boy's club where grown men drink together and grind meat), and he has a flourishing garden where he grows a plethora of fruits and vegetables and cans them all.
Billy has a modest plot of land, a steep hill on the side of his house, not ideal for a gardening, but Billy's garden thrives. It's how I imagine some of our ancestors gardened, on the hilly, mountain-side of Calabria.
Billy jars and pickles everything: jellies, jams, applesauce, tomatoes, banana peppers stuffed with sauerkraut (he's part Irish), BBQ banana peppers, and these amazing little cherry peppers that he keeps in vinegar for weeks, stuffs with Fontinella and prosciutto, and preserves in oil, but Billy's never heard of mostarda.
Mostarda is an Italian preserve similar to chutney made of dried and fresh fruits, mustard seeds, and cayenne pepper. It's pairs perfectly with cheese, or beef brisket, sweet Italian sausage, or pork roast (the Italian version of pork and applesauce).
After discovering mostarda, I was on a mad hunt for a good recipe.
I narrowed it down to to two recipes: Food52's long and apparently authentic way to make mostarda and Savour's quick and spicy method. I made them both, and honestly, I liked the quick method better. If you want to be a purest and have three days to spare, then have at it, but the quick method exceeded every exception I had. I made a few modifications, like cutting down the sugar and amping-up the wine and cayenne pepper and don't forget the salt. Salt enhances all that mostarda-y goodness.
I know I romanticize all this canning business. After all, canning was once a necessity. But as I stand in my modern kitchen, making this recipe because I want to, buying all the ingredients from the store, I can't help to think how cool it is that, thousands of years ago, somewhere in Italy, someone I may have been related to was making this very recipe.
In Italy, mostarda di frutta is served at Christmastime with marscapone cheese.
As soon as I perfected my recipe, I sent a copy to my cousin, Billy, along with a picture.
I wrote, "I discovered this Italian preserve and I know you are going to want to can heaps and heaps of it."
"That looks beautiful," Billy replied.
I was so proud to share a new, old thing with my expert, conservator cousin.
Now we can preserve a new tradition together.
Now we both can feel a real simpatico with our dead relatives and with each other, too.
A well-balanced condiment of sweet fruit, spicy cayenne and mustard seed and powder, the acidy of apple cider vinegar and white wine, and a little salt to intensify the flavors. Serve mostarda with a platter of cheese and crackers. Most cheeses will do, but I think gorgonzola, Pecorino-Romano, or goat cheese is especially delicious. You can make mostarda for spring, summer, and winter. Just use fruit that is in season. For fall, warm apple and pear mostarda is a welcomed addition to antipasti of cured meats and cheeses and a great topping for any pork or duck dish, and it's incredibly easy to make.
Yields: 3 cups cooked fruit
2 lb pear and apple, peeled, and chopped into ½ inch pieces
8 oz dried cranberry and cherries
1 cup sugar
2 tsp ground mustard
1 TBSP apple cider vinegar
2 TBSP yellow mustard seed
1 tsp cayenne pepper (less or more depending on your preference)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 TBSP canola oil
1 cup white wine
2 cups water
A few bay leaves
Peel and cut the fresh fruit. In a medium-sized pot, add all ingredients and stir. Cook over medium-high heat and let it come to a boil. Let it bubble for an hour and 15 minutes or until the syrup becomes nice and thick. Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.
Store in an airtight container for 3-4 weeks.
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Who Knew? Mustard seeds are really good for you.